Candy: thank you for visiting us on the slushpile even though you are on the brink of picture book fame and fortune.
Sue: ha! That’s what I thought the last time round! When my first picture book was published, I thought I’d never see the slushpile again. On the contrary, I spend most of my time here. I've spent the last several years writing and submitting and being rejected just like everybody else.
The only reason I've nipped out of it this time is because I happened to bump in to the submissions editor at a children's book event who suggested I submit my work.
Candy: Before you decided on a glittering career of rejection by children’s book agents and publishers, you had a pretty good job as a Tamba, the sweet little dragon in Tikkabilla. What was it like being a dragon?
Sue: Sometimes, a little cold! This is us on a sleigh ride to see Santa in Lapland, for a Christmas Special.
Sue freezing for her art in Lapland
Tamba had a brilliant view - I had to be hidden under a thermal mattress and a blanket.
It was physically demanding and I lost a stone in weight during filming. The whole body is involved in bringing the puppet to life. I had an upholstered trolley (a bit like a mechanic uses to wheel under a car) that I manoeuvred with my legs while lying on my back and held the puppet high over my head while singing and talking at the same time. Yes, a sweet little dragon!
At the time, I said it was my dream job and it was. Now I have to say that writing has taken over. I commissioned Neil Sterenberg, who made Tamba, to build me a dog puppet for author visits so I will still be puppeteering but I won't be hiding this time.
Candy: My daughter loved your surreal first book which featured a child climbing into bed with a cow. Where did you get that idea?
Sue: I wanted to write a story about food and a young child's significant times of day. We love food in our house and before my daughter started school, we were always cooking. She was the age when breakfast, lunch, tea and bedtimes were a familiar and comforting routine.
The teatime picture book text I submitted was rejected 11 times so I skipped tea and moved on to bedtime and writing about delay tactics - another story, a drink, anything to avoid having to go to sleep. Her first toy was a cow and when we lived in a flat, her bedroom overlooked a row of back gardens. We would sit in a rocking chair, my daughter and her cow, with a book and look out at the moon. The bedtime story became the one about a girl whose cow wouldn't go to bed.
Candy: Ailie Busby drew the lovely pictures for your new book The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog. She is an author in her own right. Did the process of working together involve a lot of negotiation?
Sue: We didn't really work together. I had finalised the text with the editor and agreed on AIlie Illustrating the story before signing the contract. I saw her proposed roughs for my text before I realised that she was the author/illustrator of Drat That Fat Cat! Many people will be familiar with her vibrant art. We didn't have any direct contact. We only emailed each other after the book was completed.
Candy: Can you tell those of us who are still stuck in the slush pile what it’s like working with a real editor?
Sue: The most amazing experience for me was working with the editors.
The submissions editor emailed me to start with, passing on revisions that the directorial editor had suggested. I revised extremely fast because the points the editor raised made complete sense. Funny how you can work on a text for years and years and not see a problem until someone else points it out. The editor knew exactly what she wanted out of the story and I think she pushed me until we both knew the story was finished.
Once Ailie was on board, the editor was in the hot seat passing messages between us and forwarding picture samples to me. I didn't need to give many illustration notes but the ones I had written in the margins were ones she used because they were part of telling the story. The text hardly changed at all during the illustration process, so I think the editor did a brilliant job and Ailie's illustrations are absolutely the ones I had in my head - only better!
Candy: What is the single most useful piece of advice you can give picture book writers stil struggling to get published?
Sue: Join SCBWI and participate in your regional events. If you can't get to any - network online. For UK residents - set up a profile on the SCBWI Ning thing!
Candy: And finally, the question that is burning in the hearts of all who inhabit the slushpile: is there hope?
Sue: I think of it as more of a Mosh Pit than a Slushpile.
We take it in turns to hitch a ride on someone’s shoulders to get a better view, unless we’re lucky enough to know someone in the band. I'm having a great time at the moment and anyone can get there who is really passionate about the band!
Candy: When is the official launch date?
Sue: The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog
is out on Thursday 5th Feb and you can pre-order it now.
Thanks for inviting me to the Slushpile, Candy.